Costco Plan

There existed no need for the standard introductory remarks. For the chairman, there was the very real danger the room would erupt in laughter anyway.

“We like to have a good standard of conduct here,” he would say in opening the March public hearing. “Everything is on the record. It might go to court someday. And we want to be portrayed, everyone, in a positive light. We want the hearing to be fair. We want everyone to be in a professional standard of conduct.”

But Inland Wetlands Commission Chairman Daniel Shapiro could not possibly utter those words and be taken seriously to start the April hearing. Documents uncovered by BranfordSeven.com had shown clearly that Shapiro was working with town employee Diana Ross well behind the scenes to alter key reports, and that fairness was the furthest from his mind.

But this meeting would prove different in the actions of the Commission. As while in the past there had been some sense or at least the façade, of fairness, Shaipro and his friends had no intention of even trying now.

What took place last week was the ultimate farce of the Inland Wetlands Commission. While Costco put on a master class in water runoff management, rebutting with science and experts all objections, Shapiro, and commissioners Killelea and Rusatsky, took turns alternating between attacking the applicants and looking as bored as humanly possible.

Costco took the floor after Keith Ainsworth, the attorney for the BCRD, an anti-Costco group led by Penny Bellamy, repeatedly attacked the character of Costco, accusing them of lying and working to mislead the Commission, even as all the evidence Ainsworth presented was false.

First, he accused them of attempting to file large amounts of information in an attempt to hide something. There was no evidence of that, and the peer reviewers and even the experts for the Land Trust felt differently.

Then, he told the Commission that Costco was hiding the fact that Costco was building a smaller store in east Lyme. Ainsworth was wrong again, actually, Aisnworth simply didn’t know the difference between gross square footage and net square footage of a structure.

Then the BCRD expert, Trinkaus Engineering, spend the better part of 20 minutes detailing how salt used on roads during snowstorms will be a major issue, despite the fact that the state uses the same salt as does every other property owner in the area. Shapiro used leading questions to get certain statement from Trinkaus; when Joe Montesano, the Costco representative, rebutted Trinkaus later, Shapiro would repeatedly cut him off.

It was evident just minutes in to Costco testimony the Commission wanted to hear none of it. Shapiro repeatedly asked them to hurry, reminded them it was getting late, and looked uninterested. Killelea repeatedly asked nonsensical questions, seemingly trying to catch Costco in a contradiction, attempts that were blown up as Costco presented details.

The attacks took their toll. Even those representing Costco starting losing their patience; and any semblance of an intelligent discussion was gone. Said one land owner in the audience: “I’ve been coming to meetings like this for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

What it means for Costco

There are two “elephants” in the room for these hearings now: first is the doctoring of the peer review, a clearly wrong act in the eyes of everyone except the Commission and the BCRD. Tom Cody, the attorney for Costco stated publicly they objected to the report, and when asked why, stated that it was signed by Milone and McBroom, and there was sufficient evidence that others had input into it. This was true, source documents show that Diana Ross, who in her emails states she was aided by Shapiro, added major parts to the review, including looking at a smaller structure, adding the need for more information even after the initial report stated the issues were “adequately addressed,” and arrives at highly altered conclusions.

Shapiro is a key part of the changes, as evidenced by a document that shows his handwritten alterations to the report, according to Ross emails. In fact, the initial report came in March 7, but Shapiro only read into the record the altered report dated March 9.

The second “elephant” is the fact that 4 of the Commissioners terms are up May 31. Shapiro, Killelea, Basserman and Gangi, who ever attends, will see their terms end.

Last year, when first selectman Jamie Cosgrove added a new member when the term of Richard Orsen expired, Shapiro was livid, even attending a Board of Selectman meeting to state it “was a sad day for Branford,” and that the change was “taking the science out from under us.” But the need for that change was well known privately, already there was one case in court where Orsen was allowed to serve as an expert and report back to the Commission he was a member of, meaning he could be a voting member on his own testimony, a clear issue. And now Shapiro has done the same, altering a key document behind closed doors that he would later have the Commission use, including himself, to make a decision.

Interestingly, Ainsowrth was a defender of Shapiro and Ross’ actions, stating this was normal interaction. He then listed 4 legal cases, none of which had any relevance. He also stated that the documents released by the town should have been protected by the FOIA statutes, expect he cited the wrong statute and the FOIA protect drafts of staff reports, not those of a third party.

Ultimately, Costco wins on the facts and evidence, but considering the disposition of the Commissioners, it may be hard to get a winning vote. Two members, Commissioners Goggin and Berke-Schlessel, both Cosgrove appointees, appear to be yes votes. Rusatsky and Shapiro are clearly no votes, and it seems Killelea has joined them after his behavior last week. Botta has asked logical questions, but has always been presumed to be a no vote; she is married to Chris Sullivan, the former chair of the Democrats who are fighting Costco and is an environmentalist. Peter Basserman also has been an exception on the Commission; if we count him as a yes vote, the application fails 4-3.

If it fails, Costco will have a decision to make. They can appeal the decision, or they can re-apply. With the behavior of the Commissioners, most notably Shapiro and Killelea, it is likely the makeup of the Commission will be significantly different come June.

What it means overall

What we clearly saw last week is evidence of what has been taking place behind the scenes for years. Remember Wayne Cooke driving around the town Green with a trailer about town corruption? While so much of that was issues done behind closed doors, this time it is was public; it seemed as though Shapiro no longer cared if the whole world saw the true colors of the Commission.

For example, let’s look at what Costco walked into: The Commission and Diana Ross had a close relationship with the DaRos administration, and did its bidding. That administration was led by Penny Bellamy, who now leads the BCRD. The Land Trust also signed on as intervenors, but internal pressure mandated they be logical, and meet with Costco. Costco welcomed that, and earned the praise f the Land Trust, so much so the Land Trust no longer opposed.

Once that took place, especially since the Land Trust owned the lands the BCRD was stating were in jeopardy, there was other talking points needed. Ross pressured Milone and McBroom to add major changes and new items to its “peer review,” most notably, the alternative of a smaller Costco and the narrative that the application was incomplete.

Amazingly, those new talking points added to the peer review became the centerpieces for the BCRD argument and Ainsworth’s filings.

However, the collusion becomes exposed soon after. But instead of admitting something wrong took place, the BCRD and Milone and McBroom state this is completely normal and nothing improper took place. Angry commissioners, instead of apologizing to Costco, rally around Shapiro and Ross, and attack the applicant.

And the sad part is, this is Branford corruption. It’s nothing new. And it’s happened for years.

What is means is that moving forward, Cosgrove has his work cut out for him. This Commission needs an overhaul, and it needs to be public who had influence over this process. If Ross does keep her job, it needs to be with a full disclosure of everything that took place.

It’s clear the town is behind Costco and Cosgrove, which means its decision time for even Democratic leaders. Do they stay loyal to the corruption of the previous regime or move forward? What trumps what, party loyalty or doing what is right for the town?

The towns top elected Democrat, Jack Ahern, has had a lot to say on appointments but not a word on this issue or Costco. Bellamy worked on Ted Kennedy's campaign, yet we hear nothing from him. Where is Fran Walsh, or or Unk DaRos, or the new DTC chairman on this? Do they advocate for the dishonest, and very public actions, of this group, or are they supporting Cosgrove making changes?

There is little point in breaking down specific arguments in the hearing, we did that in our preview article. Ainsworth lied, Costco called them on it. The facts favor one side. No logical person would debate that.

What remains is a decision for each one of us. This Commission, and possibly some town departments, need to be swept clean. Every applicant needs to know they will always get a fair hearing in this town. This is a town with grand plans: a new Community Center, a new Walsh School, and more. We have prepared ways to fund them, but are counting on increasing tax revenue and attracting younger families, something Costco plays a role in. We have a group of multi-millionaires led by Bellamy who could care less about the needs of the rest of us and fight for sport, misleading and lying in expert fashion as much as needed.

This is a matter of right and wrong. It’s a matter of town-wide honor. And it’s within our power to fix. 

(16) comments

Joe Gordon1

The makeup of the IWC is not representative of the Town. The election Of Jamie Cosgrove as First Selection was vote for Costco, as was the unanimous vote of support from the EDC. The replacements on the IWC should include a member of the EDC to provide balance.

Anonymous

Stating that, because Costco is building a smaller store in East Lyme, it can build a smaller one in Branford, is complete nonsense. A larger store in Branford will serve a larger customer base between exit 56 and 65. East of that point is a smaller customer base, which means a smaller store. This is simple demographics. But too much to ask of the imperious lawyer clique of Stony Creek.

Anyway, the reason for BCRD's demands is to keep a store from being built, and so have revenge on Wayne Cooke and his little trailer. If Costco wanted a 400,000 sq ft store on Unk's friend's wetlands up the street on Bittersweet, Shapiro would be swimming through Alligator-infested sewers to sign off on the heavy machinery to fill it all in.

AND WE ALL KNOW IT!

Peter Black

Costco is building a slightly larger store in East Lyme, based on the exterior dimensions (gross square footage). BCRD was using net square footage measurements for the East Lyme store, i.e., interior retail floor space, and comparing it to Branford's gross square footage, which includes the thickness of the walls, mechanical rooms, chases, etc. East Lyme's zoning regulations are based on interior, retail floor space, whereas Branford's are based on the total size of the building. Basing things like parking on interior, usable space marks sense since more retail floor space will mean more shoppers, whereas a larger mechanical room or thicker walls won't increase or decrease demand for parking.

Pat Santoro

Bravo,Steve.Not only did you speak and reveal the truth,you brought to the townspeoples attention the depth of corruption under the DaRos administration.I would imagine cleaning it up could be a full time job.Townspeople would make fun of Wayne Cooke and his trailor,think again,without his efforts none of the corruption would have been revealed,even the court agreed that the Branford hierarchy was DISHONEST.I believe in taking one day at a time,but the taxpayers deserve honesty and integrity in all dealings,not to be demeaned and degraded by a small group of sick freaks who only care about their illegal actions.What is their goal ?CONTROL at any cost.

Anonymous

why the hell is Shapiro still on the Commission! He has disgraced this Commission and the town with his sneaky and under minded antics. His arrogant and conceited attitude is going to cost the taxpayers of Branford! Shame on him and his gullible wannabees. Penny Bellamy is another Democratic superlib wacko. Stop pushing your agenda and listen to the 99.9% of Branford residents who want this project to go through. Lets face it, yu all got caught with your pants down and it's time for all of you to let the Unk vendetta go and walk away from this idiotic fight and and plan on shopping at Cosco! ffr

Anonymous

The following statement is the only written statement I've read which outlines what is at stake in this town. "This is a town with grand plans: a new Community Center, a new Walsh School, and more. We have prepared ways to fund them, but are counting on increasing tax revenue and attracting younger families, something Costco plays a role in." Cosgrove made political promises on expenses. Expenses which some will call investments. These expenses only become investments if the town attracts additional tax payers to share the burden. I believe Cosgrove knew he needed to clean house, but thought it was politically savvy to do so over time to ensure the political rhetoric was minimal. Unfortunately many now know several departments of the town are dishonest and the negative publicity (reputation) is damaging. Branford has been competing against Guildford and Madison for years and has been losing due to the quality of education, this is a known fact to people familiar with residential real estate. Cosgroves "investments" in town are now at risk and while he isn't a person to make flamboyant announcements he will need clean house and step up to the bully pulpit and promote his actions to anyone and everyone who will listen. Perception is reality and the current reality regarding of the Town of Branford is negative.

Anonymous

Anon 6:48: Well said! You nailed it!

Asiseeit

Anon 6:48.. Don't confuse your perception of Branford for reality. You are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts. More often than not a person or even a town creates an expenses in order to make an investment. A young couple who purchases a house in town also creates an expense with a monthly mortgage payment and property tax. That "expense" is also their investment. The words expense and investment are not mutually exclusive. they actually compliment one another. If and when the town creates an expense by paving a road or building a new school it also has created an expense and made an investment in the town and its residents all at the same time. I am sure you have purchased something on the basis that next year you may get a pay raise or a job promotion. Here is some simple advice... don't worry about Jamie. He knows exactly what he needs to do and more importantly... when it's going to happen. He gave Shapiro and his cronies an honorable way out of the mess they created along with enough rope to hang themselves...and they did. They took the bait ...hook, line and sinker. Only thing left is to reel the blowfish in, take the hook out of their mouths and fry them up. Ahhh.. the smell of fried fish!

Anonymous

If As-I-See-It is correct, Jamie is a really good poker player, and Shapiro was just sand-bagged big-time.

Anonymous

Asiseeit, Anon 6:48 here. I won't get into my perception versus an outsiders perception because it's a couple of beers/coffee and about 4 hrs of discussion points. But let's just say for a moment you own a business and have thoughts of moving to Branford because of its proximity to New Haven and Hartford. You begin to search the local news sites and read the articles as well as the comments regarding Costco. Do you have a good feeling about investing in this town? The opinion was at a macro level and to state I'm not entitled to my own facts is a bit hypocritical as your paragraph was mostly backed with innuendo. Concerning your accounting lesson, again its another 4 hr conversation regarding the tax code which I'm happy to walk you through when you can make time. Many posts on the site have a tendency to pick apart a statement for their response instead of seeing the Forrest for the trees. Stay with me, Im not against Cosgrove.

george

two saying I despise -1- you are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts-2-i am a glass half full person--those two should be banned--how's that for a melt down

Anonymous

In my opinion, the lack of an explosive uproar from Branford Republicans, is due to the fact that the terms of the offending members of the IWC are coming to the end, and the non-confrontational and mature solution is to just replace the ant-business liars with people of integrity. That's why I'm a Republican.

Asiseeit

Anon 3:16... Just a few clarifications to your comments...I don't need beer, coffee and 4 hours of your time to know the difference between perception and reality. Many businesses have moved into Branford without the effect of the Costco fiasco. What is happening at Costco has more to do with the landowners and a political grudge that has been going on for years. Anybody with the Costco situation knows that it's really an anomaly. Your preception that I need more beer, more coffee and another 4 hours of your time to explain accounting 101 is just silly. I know you are not against Jamie... it just my "perception" that makes it sound that way.,, ya' know what I'm sayin'?

Anonymous

To Anonymous who posted at 6:15 pm on Wed, Apr 20, 2016 and wrote: "In my opinion, the lack of an explosive uproar from Branford Republicans, is due to the fact that the terms of the offending members of the IWC are coming to the end, and the non-confrontational and mature solution is to just replace the ant-business liars with people of integrity."

It may also be that the Republicans expected this kind of result before it occurred and already had contingency plans in place accordingly. The behavior of the anti-Cooke zealots has been going on for years now.

Back when the Powerball jackpot was enormous, one of my daydreams had I won was to buy the Cooke property, to remove that element from the picture. I'd have happily sold it to CostCo at breakeven for me, just to reduce the embarrassment for the Town.

I'd also find a way to finance a lawsuit against BCRD to make them, not the Town, accountable for any liability that might have resulted from the Shapiro/Ross misbehavior.

george

anon 955--like you I have an opinion--I believe any reasonable person would agree that the Costco feud is just an opportunity for those remnants of the old administration to get cooke--in reference to your comment, you state its really an anomaly -- are you serious, where were you during the days of rage ( previous administration) how many people were screwed by that crowd, I don't know and neither do you--but I am willing to bet Costco was not the first act of revenge--when are all reasonable folks going to stand up an applaud cooke """HE WAS RIGHT""

Asiseeit

I agree with you . My comment about the Costco Fiasco being an anomaly is in direct reference to that remnant group of idiots left over from the previous administration who were out to screw the town. That doesn't mean that the entire town government was corrupt. Jamie is quietly cleaning up the mess and making Branford a better town. As for Wayne Cooke.. I love the guy!

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